Teacher background information


Year 2 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Physical sciences

A push or a pull affects how an object moves or changes shape (ACSSU033 - Scootle )

  • investigating the push and pull movements of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s instructive toys (OI.5)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long used instructive toys as play-based learning objects. Instructive toys are devices or models that are objects of play, usually designed for children, that stimulate learning by promoting the development of a particular skill or providing play experiences to learn about a particular subject. Instructional toys may be simplified or miniaturised versions of objects used by adults or may model the activities and practices of adults. Movement of instructive toys is through the application of a force, such as a push or pull. Pushes and pulls are contact forces that, when applied to an object, can cause a change in the motion or direction of an object. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to investigate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ long-held understanding of the physics of movement through the push and pull movements of instructive toys.

For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used instructive toys and games as educational devices and models that stimulate and achieve learning in young people. Children’s games and activities have long provided a context for acquiring knowledge, understanding and the development of skills required in later life. Many instructive games and toys involve objects that can be moved with the application of force. A force is an external influence applied to an object that, when unopposed, causes the object to change motion, direction or shape. A push or pull is a type of contact force exerted directly on an object, known as ‘applied force’.

Many instructional devices that are used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are set into motion through the contact forces of pushes and pulls that are applied by a person. A variety of spinning tops has been recorded throughout Australia; the spinning tops have been made from materials such as the hard shell of a nut, beeswax, plaster or volcanic rock. These materials usually had a hole drilled through the centre and were fastened to a stick with resin and twine. A spinning top is set in motion by a simultaneous push and pull action. The thumb or palm of one hand exerts a push on the central stick, while the forefinger or other hand creates a pull in the opposite direction. On the Island of Mer in the Torres Strait the spinning stone tops of the Meriam Peoples are called kolaps. An adult game involving these spinning stone tops was recorded as creating intense competition among the Meriam Peoples, and the winner was the person whose spinning device stayed in motion the longest. The Yidinjdji Peoples of the Cairns region of far north Queensland made bunbuja, spinning tops from the gourd of the wax gourd plant (Benincasa hispida). The objects were decorated with bands of ochre; a small hole imparted a humming sound when the top was set in motion. The magnitude of the initial push and pull forces that set the spinning tops in motion influenced how long the device stayed spinning before it came to a standstill.

Water play and games have long been enjoyed by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and are essential in building aquatic skills and knowledge. Water-based activities can assist the development of coordination and gross motor competence, building skills for the future. Water play includes play with miniaturised objects that float and model vessels, such as canoes or rafts used by adults. Prior to colonisation, canoes were important vessels used in travel, the transportation of goods, and fishing and hunting activities. Canoes and rafts can be steered through water using paddles or poles; spears are sometimes used as poles. The Watiwati and Wemba-Wemba Peoples of the Swan Hill region of Victoria steer canoes through water using a propelling stick; great skill and ability is required as the stick is thrust to the bottom of the water to push the canoe along. Through instructive toys and games children learn the skills of both constructing water vessels and manoeuvring the vessels through water using push and pull forces. The culmination of these canoeing skills was seen in the much-celebrated adult bark canoe competitions held by the Ngarrindjeri Peoples and neighbouring groups on the lower Murray River. The Yolŋu Peoples of north-eastern Arnhem Land construct toy canoes for children from bark, using the forces of pushing and pulling to bend the bark and craft the object into shape. Once completed, children push their canoe along the surface of the water to set it in motion; the canoes are often raced against each other. Larger toy canoes and rafts able to carry children are also constructed. Children play in the shallow waters on such vessels with miniature paddles or sticks, learning the skill of propelling the watercraft using pushing and pulling forces. When heavy rains inundated the Yarra River on the lands of the Kulin Nation, children paddled small canoes in the shallow waters of the flooded flats. The canoes were set into motion through the pulling action of the paddle through the water and the speed of the vessel was determined by the magnitude of the pulling force that was applied.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose Country or Place encompasses oceans, rivers, creeks or waterholes learn to swim and dive from an early age through games and play. These childhood activities develop competency and expertise in skills that may be required later in life, such as the acquisition of abalone or shellfish from aquatic environments. The Mabuiag children of Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait play udai, a catching game that is played in the ocean. Children go into the ocean in two teams and attempt to throw an object using a pushing force, such as a bean or hard fruit, to other members of their team. The opposition tries to intercept the throw and obtain the object for their team.

The mud banks of tidal rivers provide an environment for sliding games and play. Lamalama children of the eastern Cape York Peninsula collect a long piece of bark to use as a board or sled. Resting on the board with one knee, the board is propelled forward by pushing backwards with the opposite leg. This pushing force is rapidly repeated so that the board skims along the mudflat at a high speed. The children of Gajirrabeng Country in the Kimberley region of Western Australia also played sliding games in the mud flats. Here, one child helds the feet of another child who lay on their stomach on the ground with knees bent upwards; a push force was applied to the feet to propel the child forward through the mud. Where water was not available for such games, sleds made of bark and branches may have been used on grassy hills in a similar manner. In Central Australia, children used pushing or pulling forces to set a bark sled into motion to slide down a steep bank; the speed of travel was determined by the magnitude of the initial pushing force. Instructive toys and games continue to fill an important role in the development of strength, balance and agility; in aquatic environments these skills build confidence and capability in children.

Since the 1940s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pull-along and push-along toys for children, such as trucks and rollers, have been constructed using a variety of contemporary materials. The Arrernte, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara Language speakers of Titjikala in central Australia continue to use their knowledges of instructional toy construction to manufacture pull-along toys; the process now incorporates contemporary construction materials. Empty powdered milk or treacle tins are crafted to replicate vehicles, such as horse-drawn carts or wagons; the tins are filled with sand or gravel and holes are created to attach a wire handle. More recently, scrap metal and old car parts including tyres are used to construct different push-along or pull-along toys, such as replica cars. Truck toys, widely distributed across Australia, are manufactured using a range of readily available materials including fencing wire, string, wheel rims, food tins and fishing line. Other instructional pull-along toys are made from a tin with holes punched at either end, wire threaded through, and filled with sand. The Pitjantjatjara children of the central Australian desert use roller toys, known as taraka taraka, made from two tins connected by lengths of wire and with a handle extending upwards. The Wik, Wik Way and Kugu Peoples of the Aurukun region of the western Cape York Peninsula construct push-along truck toys with two handles made from sticks or branches. The sticks are notched in at either side of a single can filled with sand. Such contemporary toys that model many modern vehicles are set in motion through push or pull forces.

This elaboration, in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples instructive toys, provides students with the opportunity to investigate how push and pull forces affect the motion of an object. For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used instructional devices and models to stimulate learning in fundamental physics and skill development. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long applied the physics of motion and instructive toys are used to teach children how push and pull forces influence movement.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Australian Academy of Science Primary Connections. (2018). Machine Makers. Retrieved from https://www.primaryconnections.org.au/curriculum-resource/machine-makers

Australian Screen. (2019). Bush Toys. Retrieved from https://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/bush-toys/

Basedow, H. (1925). The Australian Aboriginal. Adelaide: F. W. Preece.

Bush toys a big hit in Big Apple. (2004, November 1). The Age. Retrieved from https://www.theage.com.au/national/bush-toys-a-big-hit-in-big-apple-20041101-gdywmj.html

Edwards, R. (1972). Aboriginal bark canoes of the Murray Valley. Adelaide: Rigby.

Haagen, C. (1994). Bush toys: Aboriginal children at play. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. 

Haddon, A. C. (1912). Reports of the Cambridge anthropological expedition to Torres Straits: Vol. IV. Arts and crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Khan, K. (1996). Catalogue of the Roth Collection of Aboriginal Artefacts from North Queensland: Vol. 2. Items collected from Cairns, Cape Bedford, Cape Grafton, Cape Melville, Cardwell, Clump Point, Coen, Cooktown, Dunk Island, False Cape, Flinders Island, Hambledon, Herberton, Hinchinbrook Island, Ingham, Innisfail, Johnstone River, Kuranda, in 1887- 1904. Technical Reports of the Australian Museum, 12, 1-189.

Osmond, G. (2017). Indigenous sporting pasts: Resuscitating Aboriginal swimming history. Australian Aboriginal Studies, (2), 43.

Roth, W. E. (1902). Games, sports and amusements (Bulletin No. 4). North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin. Brisbane: Government Printer. 

Shaw, E. (1949). Early days among the Aborigines: The story of Yelta and Coranderrk Missions. Fitzroy, Vic.: W. & J. Barr.

Stronach, M., Adair, D., & Maxwell, H. (2019). ‘Djabooly-djabooly: Why don’t they swim?’: The ebb and flow of water in the lives of Australian Aboriginal women. Annals of Leisure Research, 22(3), 286-304.